The Chinese have been creating myths to make sense of calamities and upheavals for more than 2,000 years. These myths and stories continue to captivate the imagination, blending a variety of religious, philosophical, and folklore traditions. Sound very interesting, no?
These interesting Chinese myths and traditions explain, among other things, how turtles kept the globe upright; why nine suns roasted the Earth's surface; and how magpies crossed the sacred and profane realms. And it all begins a long, long time ago...
Genesis – With severe consequences: Nüwa is reshaping mankind
Nüwa, the half-human, half-snake goddess who was sent to earth, found herself completely alone on the peaks of Mount Kunlun in northwest China. She molded clay miniatures and poured life into them in a stroke of brilliance.
There was anarchy soon after. Animal habitats were destroyed by wildfires and floods; monsters became desperate and consumed people; the sky had crumbled and fell on the earth; demons were released.
Nüwa came to mankind's rescue because she was sympathetic to her non-biological progeny. She used the legs of the huge turtle Ao to support the sky and constructed dams to keep the rivers from flooding. Nüwa eventually restored order to the human civilization she constructed after a lot of hard work – a vital foundation for the ancient ruling elite to embody semi-divine agency and achieve ultimate dominion.
A classic love story about a weaving girl and a cowherd.
The status quo in Chinese legendary traditions often condemns ‘intergalactical' partnerships, and those who break them face severe consequences — frequently not death, but permanent separation.
The story of the weaving girl and the cowherd is told here. The former was an immortal fairy who came to Earth for a rendezvous, fell in love, and even had a family with a simple cowherd. She was eventually summoned home, with permission to see her husband and two children just once a year, over a bridge of magpies, as she was torn between celestial and terrestrial existences.
On the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunisolar calendar, also known as the "Chinese Valentine's Day," they reunite. The two brightest stars in the Summer Triangle, Vega and Altair, which may be seen on a clear night in the northern hemisphere around this time of year, represent the weaver girl and the cowherd.
Boya and Ziqi's story
A singer named Boya flourished sometime between the seventh and fifth centuries BCE, when ‘China' was an incoherent idea made up of a handful of warring nations. He was known for his mastery of the g qn, a portable string instrument befitting a secluded wanderer's lifestyle. Ziqi, a woodcutter, traveled through his domains one day.
Ziqi nodded thoughtfully as he listened to his music, “These notes you play have towering mountains and flowing waterways in them.” Boya froze right there: no one had ever grasped his music so completely before! They remained friends, but Ziqi finally became ill and died. Boya tore the strings of the instrument and swore he'd never play it again after that swansong.
The term ‘zh yn' (literally translated as ‘[he/she who] knows the song') is still used to characterize close connections today.
Equal access to education? The Butterflies Lovers
Mulan, as popularized by Disney, is one narrative of female emancipation in ancient China, in which women had to sometimes disguise themselves as males in order to get things done. This also serves as the plot of Yingtai and Shanbo's love tale. Our heroes met at a private school in eastern China somewhere between the third and fifth centuries CE. They were intellectual equals and treated each other like brothers, but Shanbo had no idea that Yingtai was actually a woman.
Shanbo was taken aback when Yingtai eventually revealed her true identity and emotions for her. He finally accepted his feelings – though a little too late in the story – for Yingtai was wedded to a wealthy merchant. Shanbo's health deteriorated as a result of his grief, and he died too soon. Yingtai died after hitting her skull on the tombstone while visiting Shanbo's tomb on her way to her own wedding. Butterflies appeared, indicating that the two souls had met in the afterlife.
The Eight Immortals' passage of the sea exemplifies teamwork at its finest.
In both Taoist and secular traditions, the Eight Immortals are thought to represent a microcosm of an idealized human civilization. Many times, the old, the young, the disabled, and the sexually ambiguous join forces to overcome common challenges.
The Eight Immortals encountered a rough stretch of water on their way to the yearly spectacle marking the Queen Mother of the West's birthday, known as the Party of the Magic Peach. To accomplish the crossing, they clearly had to work out some sort of magic together.
The naughty gang gave their assigned boats a hard look: a crutch, a flower basket, a feather fan, a paper mule... Could these items be converted into amphibious vehicles to transport the crew? According to mythology, the answer is yes. The Eight Immortals arrived in elegance as a group, their heads held high amid the other partygoers.
Excessive lessons: Houyi and Chang'e
This problematic couple had clearly had more than their fair share of lessons. To begin with, they were both mortals. Houyi was given the tremendous responsibility of shooting down the nine suns that had been burning the planet, bringing famine, sickness, and other terrible destruction.
Houyi, an outstanding archer, was having a good time as he aimed for the ninth sun. “Wait there!” the emperor pleaded barely in time, pleading with Houyi to save the last sun and, with it, all of humanity's lives.
Houyi returned home with the elixir of immortality after completing more great acts (a reward from the gods). Chang'e, his wife, downed it all in one gulp and was sentenced to solitary imprisonment in the Moon Palace, escorted by a drug-smuggling hare.
The date was the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunisolar calendar, which is now known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated in many Asian countries.
Mooncakes shaped like the full moon are widely eaten in China on this day to memorialize loved ones who have passed away.
All viewpoints are valid: The big Peng is discussed by terrestrial creatures.
Zhuang Zhou, a third-century Taoist philosopher, scrawled descriptions of the fabled creature Peng, a large bird that can transform into a big whale, on bamboo slips. It's pointless for mortals to try to tell where Peng's wings and flippers start and where the sea or the sky end.
Commentaries are coming up from the mouths of earthly creatures as Peng migrates south to the Lake of Heaven, aloof and unconscious of the spectacle it creates. The fowl taunted, "Traveling for me is leaping from one hedgerow to another." The cicada echoed, "As for me, I'm perfectly satisfied with traveling up the sappanwood tree." All of this fall on deaf ears, since the Peng must complete its voyage by circling the solar system. However, because these findings are related to the size of the commentator, the author believes that all viewpoints are equally valid. In typical Taoist form, this is how the universe may continue to vibrate indefinitely.